YORKTOWN, N.Y. – Ever since Pong popularized home video-game consoles four decades ago, many parents have been trying to get their kids to put the controllers down, go outside, and make friends.
Donna Martin, however, always encouraged her son to keep playing.
With the support of friends and family, Jack Martin has not only made a career out of playing video games, he’s made thousands of friends along the way.
Known by his online alias “NiceWigg,” the 22-year-old Yorktown resident broadcasts himself playing his favorite video games while interacting in real time with his followers, of which has 64,000-plus.
Perhaps his most dedicated follower is his mother, who watches the broadcasts almost nightly and chats under the name “MamaWigg.”
“My kid’s happy,” Donna said. “Why wouldn’t I support him?”
Martin and other video game streamers, as they are called, draw monthly salaries from Twitch. As of last week, the Amazon-owned video platform was the 25th most popular website in the world, per the Alexa Traffic Rank.
How much money streamers earn depends on how popular their Twitch channels are. Though following a streamer is free, fans can unlock more features through a $5 monthly subscription. Taking the long end of a 70-30 split with Twitch, a streamer with 1,000 subscribers, for example, would pull in around $3,500 per month.
Gamers can also earn money by signing contracts with organizations and, as golfers and tennis players do, by winning tournaments. This past weekend, for example, a 16-year-old from Pennsylvania took home $3 million by winning the “Fortnite” World Cup. Perhaps the most popular video game in America, “Fortnite” pits gamers against each other in a battle royale format until one man or team is left standing.
Martin’s video game of choice is called “Apex Legends,” also a battle royale game.
In addition to being a skillful gamer, Martin’s infectiously positive personality has gone a long way toward developing a strong following. During his marathon streaming sessions, which may last anywhere from six to 12 hours, followers can chat with Martin as he plays.
“That’s why you get so close to the people that are in your stream,” Martin said. “Because you’re there for the majority of your day with these people.”
In that respect, Martin said, it becomes more of a community than a fan base.
“If you’re a streamer and you have a certain personality, or a certain humor, your chat will generally have that same humor,” Martin said. “And we welcome all [people] who enjoy that same thing to come and talk. It’s super positive. It’s so much fun.”
But entertainment is only one side to being a gamer. Martin also plays professionally with his team, Counter Logic Gaming (CLG).
On Friday, Aug. 2, he competed against the best “Apex Legends” players in the world at the X Games in Minneapolis.
Typically known for showcasing skateboarding, BMX bike racing, and other “extreme” sports, the X Games made its first foray into competitive gaming, also known as esports, in 2016, when it hosted a “Halo” tournament. After a two-year hiatus, this “Apex Legends” tournament marked the return of esports at the X Games.
Martin will compete at U.S. Bank Stadium, the home of the Minnesota Vikings, which was transformed into an esports arena.
A year ago, the idea of competing for a gold medal at the X Games was inconceivable to Martin, who was working as a physical trainer at an Equinox gym in New York City.
An avid video game player for much of his life, Martin’s friends encouraged him to join Twitch and start broadcasting.
“I would go home from like 14-hour days at my other job and stream for 3 to 4 hours,” Martin said.
A dispute with a co-worker, however, would be the push he needed to start streaming full-time. Though he lost his job at Equinox, Martin could now fully dedicate himself to video games.
“I had enough money saved up for like two months of rent,” Martin said. “That’s all I really cared about. Paying my rent and streaming.”
Through a combination of luck and skill, Martin started to impress the right people.
Dizzy, a 19-year-old named Coby Meadows, was so impressed by Martin, that he “hosted” Martin’s stream on his own channel. In effect, that means all of Dizzy’s viewers—some 12,000 of them—were introduced to Martin and watched him play.
Slowly but surely, that exposure allowed Martin to develop a following of his own.
“More and more people kept coming back and it’s a lot of thanks to him,” Martin said.
‘POSITIVITY AND LOVE’
In addition to making a living, Martin said, streaming is an outlet for him to “spread positivity and love.”
During the low points in his life, Martin lifted his spirits by watching streamers on Twitch. He now hopes that he can have that effect on other people.
“The only thing I don’t welcome is negativity. You have to stay positive in my chat,” Martin said. “I want them to come to my chat and be greeted with positivity, encouragement and happiness.”
What also makes Martin so popular, he suspects, is his excitable nature.
“A lot of people who stream games are more calm, collected, cool,” Martin said. When he wins a game, however, “I scream and I kind of go crazy. I think a lot of people like that I bring a more sports-like aspect to a video game.”
Martin, who had dreams of becoming a firefighter, said that career path is still a possibility. However, for now, he’s going to pursue gaming as a career.
The most successful gamers, he said, learn how to capitalize on their popularity by marketing themselves, creating merchandise, or even creating their own esports organizations.
“If this takes the right turn and creates longevity for me, I would like to stay and keep going,” he said.
Nothing would make his mom happier.
“He’s humble. He’s good to people. He doesn’t judge,” Donna said. “We are beyond happy for him.”
For parents who might still be skeptical of their son or daughter’s video game playing, Martin has a message for them.
“I know there are a lot of parents out there, a lot of people from Yorktown, specifically, that are super-supportive of what I’m doing. But also, there are a lot of people who don’t understand the gaming community in general,” he said. “I would like for them to research it a little more and know that this isn’t just some hobby that your kids or your friends are doing. They can turn this into so much more.”